U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich joined the full Senate in voting 67-32 for the USA Freedom Act, a bill to end the federal government’s illegal bulk phone records collection program and make other long-overdue reforms to the Patriot Act and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The vote on final passage of the bill came after Udall and a majority of other senators voted to defeat amendments offered by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that would have weakened the reforms in the USA Freedom Act. The bill, which was passed overwhelmingly by the U.S. House of Representatives last month, now goes to the president for his signature.
Following the vote, Senator Udall released the following statement:
“While I wanted to make this bill stronger, the USA Freedom Act ends a dark chapter in our history by finally ending the illegal dragnet phone records collection program and making other important reforms. The bipartisan passage of this law – and rejection of amendments to weaken it – is a historic step. It will allow greater oversight, transparency and accountability with respect to domestic surveillance for the first time since the original legislation was rushed through following the 9/11 attacks. I firmly believe that our nation’s security doesn’t have to come at the expense of the constitutional freedoms that make our country great. I opposed the Patriot Act from the beginning because I feared it would be used to undermine the privacy rights guaranteed to all Americans under the Constitution. And I will always work to ensure that any laws we pass strike the right balance between protecting our liberties and providing for the security of our citizens.”
Udall has long pushed for reforms that would balance national security with Americans’ constitutional rights, including two bills to reform the FISA courts. He has also led a bipartisan push to ask for an independent investigation of these programs by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, and has introduced legislation to strengthen the board’s ability to conduct robust oversight of the intelligence community.
U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, voted for the USA Freedom Act of 2015, which passed the Senate by a vote of 67 to 32. The legislation will end the National Security Agency’s (NSA) bulk collection program that has allowed the government to collect billions of Americans’ private records while suspecting them of no wrongdoing.
Senator Heinrich, a cosponsor of the USA Freedom Act has been a leading advocate for ending what the Second Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously concluded is an illegal program.
“The USA Freedom Act will finally end the government’s dragnet collection of law-abiding Americans’ personal information. The legislation is a product of bipartisan compromise that helps restore the balance between keeping our nation safe with protecting the Constitutional liberties we all cherish. The intelligence community will now have an updated legal framework that ensures they have the tools they need to focus more narrowly on the records of actual terrorists, while also protecting the privacy rights of Americans.”
SUMMARY OF THE USA FREEDOM ACT
Helps Protect Civil Liberties
-Ends bulk collection: Prohibits bulk collection of ALL records under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, the FISA pen register authority, and national security letter statutes.
-Prevents government overreach: The bulk collection prohibition is strengthened by prohibiting large-scale, indiscriminate collection, such as all records from an entire state, city, or ZIP code.
-Allows challenges of national security letter gag orders: NSL nondisclosure orders must be based upon a danger to national security or interference with an investigation. Codifies procedures for individual companies to challenge nondisclosure orders. Requires periodic review of nondisclosure orders to determine necessity.
Improves transparency and better information-sharing with the American people
-Expertise at the FISA court: The bill creates a panel of amicus curie at the FISA court to provide guidance on matters of privacy and civil liberties, communications technology, and other technical or legal matters.
-Declassified FISA opinions: All significant constructions or interpretations of law by the FISA court must be made public. These include all significant interpretations of the definition of “specific selection term,” the concept at the heart of the ban on bulk collection.
-Government reporting: All significant constructions or interpretations of law by the FISA court must be made public. These include all significant interpretations of the definition of “specific selection term,” the concept at the heart of the ban on bulk collection.
-Company reporting: Tech companies will have a range of options for describing how they respond to national security orders, all consistent with national security needs.
-Emergency authorities: Creates new procedures for the emergency use of Section 215 but requires the government to destroy the information it collects if a FISA court application is denied.
A more detailed summary of the bill is available HERE.